Culture War Must Focus in on Mutual Understanding

The word, “innocent,” seems to have come up a few times with reference to Islam, over the weekend.  In an essay printed in the Sunday Providence Journal, Texas high school journalism teacher Huma Munir disclaims Islamofascists as “so-called ‘Muslim’ terrorists.”  An Ahmadi Muslim, Munir holds the creed “Love for all, hatred for none”:

The only thing ISIS and other militant groups are good at is using Islam as a tool to manipulate people into committing acts of brutality. They raise slogans of jihad while being utterly ignorant of what the word means. While the Quran says that taking one innocent life is like killing the entire mankind, the terrorists value life so little that one wonders if they are not some made-up characters from a horror movie. The violence and the brutality these terrorists carry out seem unreal and unfathomable.

The word appears again in a CNN story about the Easter attack on Christians in Pakistan, with a so-far death count of 72:

Because of the innocent setting, an unusually high number of those injured were women and children. But the attack, claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, intentionally targeted Christians, the perpetrators say.

In order for denunciations such as Munir’s to have the intended effect, we need more discussion of the concept of “innocence.”  Munir’s reference appears to be to Koranic surah 5:32, which one translation puts as follows:

… We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.

The context is the story of Cain and Abel.  After God (Allah) accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, the latter kills the former, who accepts his fate, even saying, “I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire.”   The chapter goes on (5:33) to explain:

… the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land.

What does it mean to “strive to cause corruption”?  The text is sufficiently cryptic to allow interpretation.  Taking Munir’s creed, one might suggest that “waging war against Allah and His Messenger” means failing to have “love for all” and define “innocence” as broadly as family time in a park.  On the other hand, the Koran goes on to say (5:45), “whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”

Muslims who see the active promulgation of Christianity (for example) as a war against Allah therefore have scriptural justification for violence.  And so, we hear reports that on Good Friday, ISIS crucified a Catholic priest whom the group had abducted from an old folks’ home, where they’d killed four nuns.

The Western world desperately needs to shed the ropes that constrain its thought by making topics forbidden.  Political correctness cannot produce mutual  understanding because its entire formulation assumes that both sides are already sufficiently well understood, with one being approved and the other being explicable only as an expression of irrational hatred and intolerance.  And the penalty for those who wage war against tolerance is to be exiled from the public conversation.

What’s needed is not plaintive assertions that the Koran protects the innocent, but forceful explanations of why surah 5:32-33 means innocence broadly understood and not something more like avoiding any blasphemy.  Also needed in the West is an understanding that this is a live debate, not a settle question that we can wish away like so much political chalk on a campus.

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